Emotional abuse is a type of psychological abuse that causes trauma and mental illness. Many people assume that if a woman or man is not being , they are not suffering from . However, when you research emotional abuse, it will be clearly revealed that emotional abuse is just as damaging as physical abuse.
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In a recent review of studies reporting quantitative findings about the impact of sexual abuse of minors, Kendall-Tackett et al. (1993) found that sexually abused children were often more symptomatic than their nonabused counterparts in terms of fear, nightmares, general post-traumatic stress disorder, withdrawn behavior, neurotic mental illness, cruelty, delinquency, sexually inappropriate behavior, regressive behavior, running away, general problem behaviors, and self-injurious behavior. Estimates of sexually abused children diagnosed as meeting the DSM-III-R criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder range from 21 percent (Deblinger et al., 1989) to 48 percent (McLeer et al., 1988).4
Sexually abused children, particularly those abused by a family member, may show high levels of dissociation, a process that produces a disturbance in the normally integrative functions of memory and identity (Trickett and Putnam, in press). Many abused children are able to self-hypnotize themselves, space out, and dissociate themselves from abusive experiences (Kluft, 1985). In some clinical studies, severely abused children appear to be impervious to pain, less empathetic than their nonabused peers, and less able than other children to put their own suffering into words (Barahal et al., 1981, Straker and Jacobson, 1981).
Physical aggression and antisocial behavior are among the most consistently documented childhood outcomes of physical child abuse. Most studies document physical aggression and antisocial behavior using parent or staff ratings (Aber et al., 1990; Hoffman-Plotkin and Twentyman, 1984; Perry et al., 1983; Salzinger et al., 1984); other measures, such as child stories (Dean et al., 1986); or observational measures across a wide variety of situations, including summer camps and day care settings (Alessandri, 1991; Bousha and Twentyman, 1984; Howes and Eldredge, 1985; Howes and Espinosa, 1985; Kaufman and Cicchetti, 1989; Main and George, 1985; Trickett and Kuczynski, 1986; Walker et al., 1989). Some studies indicate that physically abused children show higher levels of aggression than other maltreated children (Hoffman-Plotkin and Twentyman, 1984; Kaufman and Cicchetti, 1989) although other studies indicate that neglected children may be more dysfunctional (Rohrbeck and Twentyman, 1986).
Many complexities challenge our understanding of factors and relationships that exacerbate or mitigate the consequences of abusive experiences. The majority of children who are abused do not show signs of extreme disturbance. Research has suggested a relationship between child maltreatment and a variety of short- and long-term consequences, but considerable uncertainty and debate remain about the effects of child victimization on children, adolescents, and adults. The relationship between the causes and consequences of child maltreatment is particularly problematic, since some factors (such as low intelligence in the child) may help stimulate abusive behavior by the parent or caretaker, but low intelligence can also be a consequence of abusive experiences in early childhood.
infancy. Until recently, research on the consequences of physical and sexual child abuse and neglect has been based primarily on retrospective studies of adolescents or adults that are subject to clinical bias and inaccurate recall (Aber and Cicchetti, 1984). Research on the consequences of abuse is also challenged by the hidden nature of much abuse and because these experiences may not come to anyone's attention until years after they occur. Maltreatment often occurs in the presence of multiple problems within a family or social environment, including poverty, violence, substance abuse, and unemployment. Distinguishing consequences that are associated directly with the experience of child maltreatment itself rather than other social disorders is a daunting task for the research investigator.
Research on the consequences of child maltreatment is also uneven and, as a result, we do not yet understand the consequences on children of particular types or multiple forms of abuse. In recent years, much attention has been focused on the consequences of child sexual abuse, especially the adolescent and adult sexual behavior of the victim. Less attention has been given to the short- and long-term consequences of child neglect and physical abuse. Only recently has public awareness expanded to include recognition of the psychological consequences that stem from even the most subtle forms of emotional maltreatment. Some experts now contend that the psychological or emotional components of abuse and neglect are the factor most responsible for the destructive consequences of all types of maltreatment (Brassard et al., 1987; Erickson and Egeland, in press; Newberger, 1973).
Nor do we yet know the importance of the particular timing, intensity, and context of abuse on the outcome. Factors such as the age and developmental status of the child may influence the outcomes of maltreatment experiences. Effects that appear at only one life stage, whether immediately following the maltreatment or later, are often different from those that persist throughout life. What may appear to be adaptive or functional at one point in development (avoiding an abusive parent or desensitizing oneself against feelings) may later compromise the person's ability to draw on and respond to personal relationships in an adaptive and flexible way. Given the wide variations reported in the research literature, certain intrinsic strengths and vulnerabilities within a child and the child's environment may affect the extent to which abuse will have adverse consequences. Disordered patterns of adaptation may lie dormant, only to appear during times of stress or in conjunction with particular circumstances (Sroufe and Rutter, 1984).
Little research has focused on gender differences in the consequences of child abuse and neglect. Early clinical reports of violence primarily describe violent male adolescents, although Widom's (1991b) delinquency analysis had higher rates of arrests for violence of abused and neglected
females, a pattern not evident for males. Studies of sexual promiscuity and teenage pregnancy have primarily included females who were sexually abused. Few studies have found consistent differences in the reaction of boys and girls to molestation, although one popular report found boys to have more externalizing and girls to have more internalizing symptoms (Friedrich et al., 1988). The lack of attention to gender differences may result from the small number of male victims of sexual abuse in most studies and lower rates of reporting of childhood sexual abuse in males.